Chapter 5:

City and Countryside

Sweet like Honey


I was a naturally curious person, so one of the first things I did right after dinner and before bed was to open up Google search and look up who “Shirley Li” was.

As it turned out, she was a pretty famous idol from some group called…Sweet Dreams or something. I wasn’t sure. The hottest searches turned up more scandalous news than I had expected, with her retiring from being an idol for “private reasons.”

Well, if she didn’t want to reveal why she retired from being an idol, then I wasn’t going to pry. That said, my curiosity was aroused and I couldn’t help but envisage all sorts of nonsense. It had nothing to do with me being a literature major and everything to do with me being an absolute moron.

Whatever delusions and absurd theories that I was entertaining vanished immediately when I received a phone call. I stifled a groan when I saw the number. My family…or specifically, my mom. It was a video call, so I reluctantly hit the green button and held my phone up to my face.

“Hello, mom.”

“Junior!” She was staring at me worriedly. “When are you coming home?”

“I already told you.” I did my best to not sigh and failed terribly. “I’ll return in the summer, after everything is…uh, settled.”

“Didn’t you already drop out of graduate school? Why do you need so long to take care of everything? Just come home immediately!”

“Come home and do what, exactly?” I snapped, losing my temper. Mom looked a little taken aback, and I exhaled wearily. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. But I’ve a job here.”

“Quit your job and come home. Why are you working at a café?”

“Because I like the café?”

Mom frowned. “You studied so much…just to get a job at a café? You can get better jobs, you know.”

“No.” That was an honest reply. “I have tried applying for jobs over the last couple of months, but this is the only one where I was accepted.”

“Just come home,” mom insisted. “We’ll help you out. There’s an opening in your uncle’s company, it definitely pays better than however much you’re earning in a café. If you’re back home, we can all help you. But if you stay in the city all by yourself…we’re worried, you know. You have no one to rely on there, you’re all alone.”

“I’m not alone. I have friends here…and a job. I don’t need that office job at Uncle Pang’s agricultural company. I’m not suited for it, anyway. I know nothing about agriculture, and using connections to get in isn’t right.”

“Uncle Pang will teach you whatever you need to know, so don’t worry. It’s better than working in a café everyday. It’s a 9 to 5 desk job, and weekdays only. We miss you. We want to spend time with you. And we’re all worried because you’re all alone by yourself, with nobody to take care of you. What if something happens?”

“I can take care of myself, mom.” My voice was firm. “I’m already over thirty. I’ve lived here in the city for seven years. I’m an independent adult now. At some point, you have to realize that I have a life of my own.”

“I know, but I don’t want that. I want you to come back. I told you not to do a PhD, didn’t I? You should have just followed all your schoolmates and worked normally. Do you still remember your classmate from elementary school? Roger? He just had his second child now. And how about that handsome boy from high school? What was his name again? Ah, Victor. He’s a doctor now. I heard he just got transferred to a hospital in the city. Why didn’t you study medicine? What can you do with a degree in literature? Never mind married, you still haven’t even found a proper job. When are you going to wake up?”

Frustration welled up inside me. While it was true that I was reluctant to go home because I was ashamed to face my parents…and to admit my failure, one of the primary reasons was that it felt stifling. It felt as if mom was hovering around my back, trying to micromanage everything I did. She was against me going to graduate school, and more than once, she had voiced her disapproval. She always wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. But those were her dreams. Not mine.

“You should stop chasing broken dreams and come home already,” mom pleaded. “Just listen to me, okay? Why are you struggling so hard? There are so many easier things you can do. You don’t even have a girlfriend!”

“I don’t need one.” I bit back a retort. “I just want to…focus on getting a stable job for now. Just give me some time.”

“You already wasted seven years in the city! How many more years do you want to waste there? You have to come back and take care of us. You know your dad and I are getting older.”

“I…” My mouth went dry. My mom had a point there. But…even so, I didn’t want to leave the city. Not yet. I was probably being foolish, but I was still clinging onto to…something. Fragments of a shattered dream that I was desperately scooping up and trying to piece together. Perhaps hope that…I would finally get a lucky break. An opportunity in the city, employment at a reputable company, maybe serving in one of the massive national libraries…

But even as I tried to persuade my mom, I found that I couldn’t even convince myself. The job at Honey Café was the best I could get and I knew it.

“Let me speak to Junior.” This time, it was dad. He placed a hand on mom’s shoulder and gently pulled her back. His face came into view and he studied me. “How are you doing?”

“All right. I’m doing fine.”

“Do you need any financial help?”

“No. I told you, I have a job. I’m managing fine on my own.” I did my best to keep the irritation out of my voice. My dad meant well, though I couldn’t help but be offended that my parents appeared to insinuate that I couldn’t take care of myself. “I’m fine.”

“Good.” Dad nodded. “I’m glad to hear that. How’s your job search going?”

“Uh…not well.”

“You’re still working at the café?”

“Yeah. The owners are great and they treat me well. I’ve learned a lot during my time there. I think business is growing.”

“I see.” Dad was silent for a while. Then he sighed. “But that’s just a temporary job. You’re not intending on working there forever, are you?”

My lips thinned. Why the hell was everyone trying to get me to quit my job at Honey Café? Whether it was my mom who simply wanted me to go home and work in the countryside as long as I was within her sight, or dad who thought I could do better, or even Bernard and Honey Chan. It was a good job, it was satisfying and it was…

Well, I liked it there. That was enough of a reason, wasn’t it?

Apparently not. It wasn’t as if I didn’t understand. There was a prejudice against fully grown adults in their thirties, especially men, working in part time jobs or temporary jobs. What did they call us? Freeters? The gold standard was a stable job, perhaps one in the civil service, a high paying job and a prestigious position.

Seeing my reaction, dad sighed, but he diplomatically didn’t press the issue. “Take your time to think what your next step is, and do whatever you need to. Remember, we’re always here for you.”

“Yeah.”

“Unlike your mom, I don’t necessarily think you need to come back home and work here,” he said in a low voice. “If you find a job in the city, I’ll convince her. So focus on that.”

“I already have a job.”

Dad looked exasperated. “Not that kind of temporary, parttime job. You’ve a masters, you just fell short of a PhD. You really should be finding a better job.”

I stayed silent. It was easier said than done, to be honest. I had tried. I really tried. Biting my lip, I nodded, even as I tightened my grip around my phone. I stared out of the window, where the city lights continued to glow. A colossal contrast to the countryside, where by now, everything would have been shut off and the entire area was so dark that you couldn’t even see your fingers if you stepped out of your house.

There was something tying me to the city. I didn’t want to leave it. I loved it here. It might be more expensive to live here, but I had come to enjoy the city life. I had no desire on giving up my place here. Swallowing, I returned my dad’s gaze evenly.

“Yeah…I’ll keep trying. I’ll let you know if there’s anything new. But…the job market right now is pretty…saturated, and it’s difficult to find a job.”

The excuse sounded hollow even in my ears. But dad didn’t pursue the point. He simply nodded.

“Take care. If you need anything, or if you’re in any trouble, you can always come back. We always have a place back home here for you.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

I hung up. With trembling fingers, I dropped my phone on my mattress and flopped downward. Taking my glasses off, I rolled over and buried my face in the pillow.

A few seconds later, the cover was damp.

Mario Nakano 64
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